OmniGraffle 6: A Huge Leap for the Mac Diagraming App

Whether you’re making a flow or org chart for a report, sketching the changes you want done to your front yard landscaping, or drafting an interactive mockup of your next iPhone app, OmniGraffle is the professional tool on the Mac we’ve come to love and trust. It’s powerful — and yet, it was beginning to feel a bit more than dated, along with the Omni Group’s other apps. They’d already promised revamped versions of OmniFocus and OmniOutliner, but before either of those hit the market, we’ve got a new version of OmniGraffle to try out.

OmniGraffle 6 is a sweeping redesign of the app that reimagines how modern Mac apps should work, while making the popular diagramming app work with Photoshop, Retina Displays, and more.

A Classic, Reinvented

The redesigned OmniGraffle 6

The redesigned OmniGraffle 6

Like most Mac apps with tons of features, such as iWork and the Omni Group’s other apps, OmniGraffle 5 relied heavily on floating inspector windows. We all know how quickly those can get frustrating and in the way, especially on the more cramped displays most of us use on MacBooks. Instead of reinventing the toolbar as Microsoft did with the Office Ribbon, the Omni Group tacked their floating windows onto the main window as dynamic sidebars that show exactly the tools you need when you need them. You’ll see your Canvases and layers on the left, and the sidebar that takes the place of the traditional floating inspector window on the right. Both of them are collapsable if you need to save space, but on widescreens — especially using the new Full Screen mode — they likely won’t get in the way except in the largest diagrams.

The powerful new built-in Inspector views

The powerful new built-in Inspector views

The new inspector is easily the nicest part of OmniGraffle 6, since it dynamically switches to the correct tools depending on what you’re working on. It also packs a number of newly redesigned tools and extra features, such as the new type inspector that includes detailed kerning options. There’s new fill and stroke styles to make your diagrams look just like you want, along with detailed placement options in the Geometry inspector. Then, you can combine shapes, then later uncombine them if you’d like. Add images to your designs, and you can mask or edit them directly on your canvas. Zoom also now works just like you’d expect, letting you zoom up to 6400% — far more than you need to tweak every tiny pixel — and options to work with either pixels or Apple points for retina display-perfect designs.

Share layers across sheets — or with Photoshop

Share layers across canvases — or with Photoshop

Canvases and layers have some great new features as well. You can share a layer across all of your canvases in one click and rename every object and layer. Combine that with tools to organize your templates right inside the app, and it’s easier than ever to reuse your work across your designs. You can then export your whole design in Photoshop format, with every layer maintained in your export.

Combine that and the other new features with a more subdued UI, one that looks great alongside the latest Mac apps, and you’ve got a very solid upgrade to OmniGraffle 5. It’s not a radical redesign along the lines of iOS 7, but then, we’re not expecting such drastic redesigns just yet. Somehow, it’s rather tough to imagine pro OS X apps ever getting as minimalist a UI treatment as most iOS 7 apps have.

Go Buy It … But Not on the App Store

For the second time this week, though, the Mac App Store comes out looking bad, this time because OmniGraffle 6 is a full new release that will be a full-priced new version on the App Store (that is, when it’s available on the App Store — as of writing, it’s yet to show up there). If you purchased OmniGraffle 5 directly from the Omni Group’s store, you can take advantage of upgrade pricing and get the new version for $49.99, but since they had to shut down their OmniKeyMaster app, there’s no way to get upgrade pricing if you bought from the Mac App Store.

Developer Steve Streza made an interesting argument this week that upgrade pricing is an outdated idea, and that developers should embrace releasing new, full-priced versions or find other ways to gain revenue such as adding new in-app purchases as the iPad app Paper has successfully done. That works on the mobile scene, but for powerful desktop apps that are priced accordingly, I’d happen to hope that discounted upgrade pricing will still be around for some time to come, as a nice incentive for existing users to upgrade. I’d also hope that powerful apps that can’t fit in Apple’s sandbox constraints — such as TextExpander 4 and Marked 2 — will keep being developed. And for both of those, it looks like we must look beyond the App Store, at least for now.

That’s why I now recommend to buy apps directly from developers when they’re offered that way, and from the App Store for everything else. It’s a tad more trouble, but it seems like the best solution — especially for expensive, professional programs.

Conclusion

The Omni Group continues to lead the way with professional apps designed just for the Mac. OmniGraffle 6 is just the beginning of their wave of upgrades for their Mac apps, and they’ve done a fantastic job updating it and making it more powerful while revamping the UI to look more modern — at least within the constraints of today’s standard UI design on the Mac. We’ve still got the promised OmniFocus 2 and OmniOutliner 4 to come, though the former may be delayed after the redesign got rebooted post-iOS 7′s introduction, so it’s exciting to see the first of their new Mac apps coming out.

If you want a powerful graphing tool for the Mac, something that can stand toe-to-toe with Visio, OmniGraffle 6 is the app to grab. It’s a welcome upgrade to a staple Mac app, and with its companion iPad app, you’ll be able to get your diagramming, wireframing, and sketching done from anywhere. It works great, and looks great — what more could you ask?

Oh, and if you pick up a copy of OmniGraffle 6 — or continue using your copy of an earlier version — be sure to check out the free Tuts+ iOS 7 OmniGraffle Stencil set  to help you mockup your new iOS 7 app design ideas!


Summary

The original diagramming app for the Mac, OmniGraffle 6 brings a new interface and a ton of new features to the Mac's best Visio alternative.

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